Smith-Cotton football has finished with a winning record twice since joining Class 5 in 2010 — last season’s 7-4 record and this season’s 9-0 (and counting) mark.
The Tigers are 9-0 for the first time since 2008, when they won 12 straight games before losing 36-7 at Kearney in the Class 4 quarterfinals.
“It’s something that you try not to reflect too much on it right away, but it’s neat to be able to have this success,” said S-C coach Ryan Boyer.
Boyer was making tackles at Central Methodist as a senior linebacker the last time S-C was 9-0.
The 2015 seniors were only in fifth grade at the time.
“It means a lot but we know that we still have a lot of unfinished business left to do,” said senior quarterback Caleb Reed.
The Tigers were a two-win program just three seasons ago but has quickly climbed the ranks in Class 5, becoming the top seed in its district this season to earn a bye this week. S-C is ranked No. 9 in the Class 5 poll.
“We’re definitely on the rise and the coaches are definitely getting it to where they need to be and they are doing what they need to do and everybody else is just following along and I think it’s just going to go up from here,” Reed said.
This year’s team hopes to make a run like the 2008 team, but how does the 2015 Tigers stack up against that team?
Solomon Watkins was the offensive star for S-C in 2008, averaging 180 rushing yards per game and scoring 39 times on the ground.
He finished his final season playing Division II ball at Pittsburg State last year.
“We wanted to do something special, not just for us but for all of Sedalia,” Watkins said of his senior year in 2008. “Sedalia hasn’t really had anything like that, so we were trying to do something special and add a little history.”
The trio of Reed, and running backs Noah Aziere and Carlton Homan combined to average 219 yards on the ground and has scored 27 rushing touchdowns.
“The key guy was Solomon and guys tried to key on him and there weren’t many teams very successful in his four years of starting,” said former S-C quarterback Bryce Johnson. “The last couple of years, Smith-Cotton hasn’t had that, but they’ve had two or three guys that run hard, they run down hill.”
Reed averages 99 passing yards per game and has eight touchdowns and four interceptions so far this season compared to Johnson’s 120 passing yards per game, 19 touchdowns and six interception in 2008.
“He’s not the 6-4, 230 quarterback that’s going to throw the ball 50 or 60 yards, but to watch him to run the offense, he’s matured a lot,” Johnson said of Reed.
Johnson lives two states over in Colorado, but said he still has S-C football running through his veins.
He said he listens to games online and even watches video of the games.
“You could say I stay pretty up to date more than most people,” he said.
This season’s Tigers squad may not have the offensive fire power like in 2008, but they’ve been able to handle adversity in close games.
S-C was down 13-0 at Nevada in Week 5 before a weather delay, but S-C came back to win 16-13.
Watkins was at that game and was able to witness the type of leadership the Tigers have this season.
“I was in the locker room and the seniors are good leaders,” Watkins said. “They pick everybody up when the other players are down.”
Watkins wasn’t able to stay until the end of the game and Boyer even joked with Watkins about leaving because he was also at last season’s district semifinal loss at Carthage.
“I said, ‘Hey man, you may have to leave,’” Boyer said.
The 2008 team had four shutouts and won 55-0 twice, but this year’s team hasn’t won by more than 28 points and has three wins of 10 points or less.
“We talked about that going into last week, ‘Guys you’re built for these big games because you’ve played from behind, played in the close ones,’” Boyer said.
The 2008 Tigers scored quickly and got to rest starters late in games, but the 2015 Tigers have long drives to help their defense stay off the field.
The most any team has scored on S-C this season is 23 points, which was back in Week 3 at Warrensburg.
S-C has allowed 17 or fewer points in four of its past six games.
“I will say they have one of the better defenses I think Smith-Cotton has ever had,” Johnson said. “I know coach (Charlie) McFail has really worked hard with them over the last couple of years and this year and last year their defense has been very impressive.”
This year’s team starts its playoff push next week against either Belton or Willard. A win would earn S-C a home district title game.
The 2008 team cruised through districts, beating Warrensburg 55-0, Grandview 47-12 and Harrisonville 47-23 before losing 36-7 at Kearney in the quarterfinals.
“They will remember it forever,” Johnson said of this season’s team. “I will forever hold that 2008 season close to me.”
Watkins said what advice he’d give the Tigers as they enter postseason play.
“Just tell them to just keep their focus and stay together,” he said. “… For the seniors, it’s your last chance so just give it all you’ve got. No regrets.”
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.